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New emails show officials in Gov. Snyder's circle discussed concerns about Flint water, did nothing

Feb 26, 2016

Credit Gov. Rick Snyder / screengrab

This morning Governor Rick Snyder’s office released 2,528 pages of emails from his executive staff related to the now well-known Flint water crisis, dating back to 2011.

More emails could be released later today.

The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press got some of the emails ahead of the public release Friday and published a series of articles about what they found in the documents.

Among the revelations:

Snyder’s staff urged the state to switch Flint back to Detroit water in October 2014; knowingly leaves info out of public eye

Two of Snyder’s top aides suggested in October 2014 to Flint’s then state-appointed emergency manager Darnell Earley that the city switch back to Detroit’s water system.

“To anyone who grew up in Flint as I did, the notion that I would be getting my drinking water from the Flint River is downright scary,” Mike Gadola, (then the governor’s chief legal counsel) wrote. “Too bad the (emergency manager) didn’t ask me what I thought, though I’m sure he heard it from plenty of others.”

Gadola said his mother remains a resident of Flint, adding a personal alarm to his message that was received by Snyder’s Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore, Deputy Chief of Staff Beth Clement and then-Communications Director Jarrod Agen and Brader.

“Nice to know she’s drinking water with elevated chlorine levels and fecal coliform,” Gadola said. “I agree with Valerie (Brader). They should try to get back on the Detroit system as a stopgap ASAP before this thing gets too far out of control.”

Brader, who now heads the Michigan Agency for Energy, acknowledges that she’s going out of her way to send separate emails to keep that opinion out of public reach under the Freedom of Information Act, writing; “I have not copied DEQ on this message for FOIA purposes."

Minutes after Brader sent the emails, Gadola wrote Flint “should try to get back on the Detroit system as a stopgap ASAP before this thing gets too far out of control.”

Snyder’s communications officials knew as early as January 2015 of deadly Legionnaire’s outbreak

In late January 2015, about a year after Governor Snyder first publicly disclosed concerns about a spike in Legionnaire’s Disease following the switch to the Flint River, former spokesman for Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality Brad Wurfel wrote to Snyder spokesman Dave Murray.

He wrote that he did not want the former head of DEQ to say, publicly, that Flint’s water “is safe until we get the results of some county health department traceback work on 42 cases of Legionnaires disease in Genesee County since last May.”

More from the Detroit News:

The email, which ended with an offer to provide additional explanation by phone or in person, is the earliest known date that anyone in Snyder’s office was aware of the Legionnaires’ outbreak, which would sicken 87 people and kill nine. The cases came in two waves: the first from June 2014 through March 2015, and the second from May 2015 through November 2015.

The Detroit Free Press reports that MDEQ’s Brad Wurfel wrote Snyder’s current chief of staff Jarrod Agen in March of 2015 about the spike in Legionnaire’s.

But Agen said he never opened that March 16 email until earlier this month.

“I never saw it until this year,” he said Thursday.

Snyder’s former chief of staff asked to distribute bottled water in Flint as early as March 2015

Snyder’s former chief of staff Dennis Muchmore suggested spending money on bottled water for Flint residents long before concerns about lead and Legionnaire’s disease were publicly disclosed.

“How about cutting a deal with Ice Mountain or (Absopure Water board member) Bill Young and buying some water for the people for a time?” Muchmore asked in a March 3, 2015, e-mail. He added: “$250,000 buys a lot of water and we could distribute it through the churches while we continue to make the water even safer."

Muchmore made the suggestion after meetings with ministers from the Flint area.

"I just think it is prudent to have a Plan B if it gets out of hand," Muchmore said in an e-mail about the state purchasing water.

"I just don't want it to get away from us so that when it turns warmer they create a crisis."

The Detroit Free Press reports that current chief of staff Jarrod Agen said the purchase never happened “partly because of opposition from the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as officials in Flint, such as the emergency manager.”